大山’s "Chinese college" English

A friend pointed me to a discussion on Quora about why foreigners in China don’t like 大山 (dàshān), [I was going to describe who that is, but if you don’t know who that is, go read something else].  I clicked on a link to Mark Rowswell’s (the guy who “plays” 大山) activity page and started reading some of the things he had to say, being very interested since he was saying them as Mark Rowswell, and not under the highly-censored-by-the-Chinese-media character of 大山.

I was shocked by how much one of his answers read like a perfect Chinese undergraduate English major’s writing assignment. Continue…

Post posted post haste

Here’s a fragment I just bumped into in 《黄金时代》 (aka Wang in Love and Bondage — some details from Paper Republic):


Doesn’t sound like anything unusual if you read it aloud: “Xiàozhǎng zhǎngzhe chángcháng de…”, but the four 长s are kind of neat. And it makes you wonder what the record is for this kind of thing. I’d prefer to define it a bit conservatively, something like…

  • Take any 10 characters in a text
  • Disregard punctuation
  • Don’t allow contrived texts that are specifically designed to include lots of the same character. Just plain old writing.

What’s the greatest number of same characters (out of 10) out there? The one above is an easy 4/10, but I’m sure there’s better.

[If you think the title of this post is bad, you should have seen the one I trashed]

China Illustrata


In a recent Language Log post, Hanzi Smatter circa 1700, Victor Mair discusses what appear to be fake Chinese characters on a European work of art.  In the comments, he adds a reference to a 1666 encyclopedic Latin work on China:

The great polymath, Athanasius Kircher (1601/1602-1680) had himself never been to China, but had a deep interest in Chinese characters, which are featured prominently in his China Illustrata (images readily available on the Web). Although his depictions of Chinese characters are painstaking, they are often so fantastically elaborated that it is impossible to determine which ones he was trying to represent. Continue…


To make sure my kids get a proper education in Chinese ideology here in China, we’ve been watching Kung Fu.  We’ve watched five episodes so far (plus the pilot), and my kids have noticed and become interested in the Chinese characters that occasionally flash by.  Usually they are too blurry to make out, or there are too few of them to get any meaning out of them.

In tonight’s episode, The Tide, Caine hooks up with a Chinese woman whose father is a famous poet who has been jailed by the emperor.  Caine finds a book of his poetry in the woman’s house, and impresses the woman with the fact that he is familiar with her father’s works, and can quote him readily.

At the end of the episode, when Caine sets off to a new town (as he usually does), the woman offers him the book of poetry as a gift.  He takes the book and starts walking away, then turns back for one last look, holding the book in his arm.  My younger kid shouted out “孙子兵法!”, to which I quickly replied “I don’t think so”.  We all looked carefully and then burst out laughing.


Ban on Building B?

We’ve all heard that in 2010 China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (中华人民共和国新闻出版总署) started worrying about the purity of “Chinese” and asked the press to rid themselves of the unseemly habit of using English names and abbreviations in their reports. See, for example, this BBC report from December.

But if school gate conversations* are to be believed, there’s a new front in the Chinese purity movement. A fellow parent at my daughter’s Beijing grade school reports that the standard old names in her apartment complex — A座, B座 (i.e. Building A, Building B) — are getting changed. Why? She claims the regulatory authorities are requiring it. No more “English” letters to be used in the naming of buildings, they say. She also says it’s not just her apartment — that she’s heard from friends of this happening elsewhere in Beijing.

I don’t read much news at all, let alone local Beijing news. Has anyone else come across this?

[Update — don’t miss the links in jdmartinsen’s first comment below. They include the proposed regulations and some newspaper articles about them]

During the conversation, thinking of Kellen’s ordered lists post, I asked her, “So what are they replacing it with? Is it 甲,乙?”

Alas, nothing so interesting. She says they now have 东南西北 (east, south, west, north) and some directions in between.


*It’s taken me two years of participation in the daily school-gate-pickup circus — complete with double parked gridlock, shady sausage vendors, and heartfelt reunions at the emotional level of “hostages released after days in captivity” — to be able to find my own equanimity, groove to the cacophony, and just chat obliviously with fellow parents.

亼? 二? Ordered lists & CJK ideographs

Sinoglot is getting another facelift. More on that later.

One of the things that we’re going to great pains to ensure is cross-everything compatibility. Unless you use Opera. More on that later too.

Part of this cross-browser, cross-system, cross-whatever-else compatibility is making sure everything is HTML5, CSS3 compliant. This in turn has had me poring over standards references to find the goodies that would make it all work regardless of the device the person reading the posts (you) was using.

W3C, in a reference dated November 2002 and re-done in 2009, provides a few nice ways to sort numbered lists. These include “cjk-ideographic” (一 二 三 四 五…), “japanese-formal,” “-informal” and a few other names which end up being “壹 貳 參 肆 伍 陸 柒 捌 玖…”. There’s also cjk-earthly-branch (子 丑 寅 卯 辰 巳 午 未 申 酉 戌 亥) and cjk-heavenly-stem (甲 乙 丙 丁 戊 己 庚 辛 壬 癸), which are nice to have.


Sexism in Characters

A lot has been said on the topic already, but I thought I’d take a look myself.

A good number of words we would deem negative have the 女 woman radical. I got to thinking about this again today while writing an email to a friend. In it, I wrote jídù 嫉妒, “jealous”. 女疾, 女户. So I popped open Pleco, went to the Unihan dictionary and found the 女 radical. Here’s what I could come up with: